Route Preview: Rallye Monte Carlo 2021

It seems 2021 continues where 2020 left off. Monte Carlo is run without spectators and the route is compromised. In addition, the Turini stages had to be exchanged because they were damaged in a storm.

Cover photo by Richard Simpson / Flickr (C)

The route hasn’t been published except for WRC+’s preview clip. This blog post tells about the stages but remember, stay at home, do not go spectating!

Thursday

In the past we’ve accustomed to Monte and the season starting – instead of a super special – with two proper stages in the dark. It’s almost the same this year, but the stages have to be run already earlier in the day due to a curfew allowing being outside only between 6 AM and 6 PM.

The same could be the reason for canceling altogether the Gap shakedown stage. However, banning the spectators from that popular test could have also been difficult. Having no shakedown means tricky start for Thierry Neuville and Teemu Suninen, who switched co-drivers but tested with their old co-driver (Neuville) or a substitute (Suninen).

SS1 Saint Disdier – Corps is a new stage title, but on a closer look it’s the ending of Agnières-en-Dévoluy – Corps driven from 2017 to 2019. Parts in the middle of the stage were also run in the 80’s and 90’s.

This stage has a lot of rhythm changes and junctions for a Monte stage. There’s a bit of all road types.

The beginning is a quite fast and flowing mountain section at the bottom of a ravine, crossing the river twice. There’s also a short tunnel between the bridges. The road becomes narrower once the stage enters forest, but the overall character remains, with some tricky places added in the mix.

A mountain section with numerous hairpins begins at 6.5 km. At 11 km a flat countryside section is reached, with long straights and tricky brakings into 90° junctions.

What follows is a technical descend and then a flowing high-speed finale. This is remembered well from 2019 when Andreas Mikkelsen tore off his rear wheel at the flying finish.

We also remember this stage well from 2018 when heavy snowfall made it difficult for the first cars to pass, whereas a later-starting RGT car made the 4th fastest time as the snow was melting. Dani Sordo’s rally ended then on that stage, and the place is near the beginning of this year’s stage.

Other casualties of 2018 were Esapekka Lappi, who suffered a puncture as a result off a slight off. Elfyn Evans and Kris Meeke had spins near the beginning of the stage, while Thierry Neuville went into a bank but survived. The long straight into a junction near the end sent many cars into the field, including Ott Tänak.

SS2 Saint-Maurice – Saint-Bonnet is also a combination of Aspres les Corps stages driven from 2015 to 2017, and the last 2.7 kilometres are new.

This is a stage of extremes. Super fast passages alternate with tricky and technical ones, sometimes abruptly. There’s not much of medium paced sections or mountain hairpins typical to the rally.

The first 900m of the stage is very wide, but right at the start there’s a turn onto a narrow and technical road, going between buildings, trees and stone walls

At 2.6 km the stage turns onto a wider road. This high-speed section has a lot of breath-taking spark-throwing bumpy and rollercoastery high-speed bends. There’s a few tight village passings, first of them at 6 km, and a number of tighter corners between them, but still plenty of flat out as well.

At 13.3 km a smoother and wider road is reached for a quick 6th gear passage but soon there’s a turn onto a narrower and more technical road with trees, buildings and bridge railings again close by.

The last 2.7 km is new. All we can say is that the road is quite narrow, and there’s a steep downhill with two hairpins, as well as a village passing. Thanks to the new section, the corner where Kris Meeke damaged his Citroen in 2017 is not included here.

Friday

Friday is the longest day of the rally with 126 km making up 45% of the route. Simialrly to Thursday, none of the stages featured in last year’s rally.

SS3+6 Aspremont – La Bâtie-des-Fonts is a reversed version of 2019’s then-new Valdrôme – Sigottier, although the beginning is now different and a little bit is snipped from the end.

This is a flowing stage with constant turns, with the ability to cut in most of them being especially characteristic.

The beginning of the stage is on a rather narrow and worn road. It has an angular character and not much elevation difference.

Valdrôme – Sigottier’s route is reached at 4.36 km at a 90° junction. What follows is a very fast and flowing section ending into a narrow village passing. Then there’s 600 metres of driving very tightly inside a ravine.

At 10 km the stage starts climbing to the mountains and descending 4 km later. There’s some hairpins, but the overall character is flowing with constant turns. The road is again quite narrow and bumpy, with lots of possibilities to cut inside the corners.

SS4+7 Saint Nazaire le Désert – Gumiane will be mostly new to the drivers. Only the very beginning was used in 2013, and we have go all the way to 1985 to find the second fourth of the stage used. The ending, however, seems to be new or at most used decades ago.

Just by looking at the map we can see that the stage is fairly straight at the start, but becomes more twisty at 3 km. The stage ascends for the first 6.9 km and then starts descending, including a series of hairpins at 8.8 km. The last 9 km seem quite straight apart from a junction at 15.9 km, but it’s difficult to say more about the character without seeing a video.

SS 5 Montauban-sur-l’Ouvèze – Villebois-les-Pins is essentially a combination of two stages. The beginning is driven very often in the rally, last in 2014 as Montauban sur l’Ouvèze – Laborel. Meanwhile, the ending has been driven only on the 2018 and 2019 Roussieux stages, and in the other direction.

This is a mountain stage where the main character of the road is the same from the beginning to the end, but the pace and rhythm change abruptly.

The stage starts in a typical Monte fashion, on a quite narrow bumpy tarmac road which is fast and flowing between the hairpins, ascending for the first 9 km. Then the downhill is a bit more technical and constantly twisty but there is also a faster 3 km stretch starting at 12.2 km.

The last 5 km – after a double hairpin at the town of Laborel – is a challenging stretch. The pace varies constantly from flat out corners to hairpins (first up, then down) and everything in between.

Montauban-sur-l’Ouvèze – Villebois-les-Pins is the longest stage of the rally at 22 km, but all the Thursday, Friday and Saturday stages are all around 20 km of length. This stage was also supposed to be run twice, but the second run was cancelled thanks to the curfew demanding the crews to be at the service park before 6 PM.

Saturday

Saturday’s route was already short to begin with, but one stage had to be compromised due to the curfew, in order to get to Monaco early enough. These are the only stages or sections to continue over from last year’s rally.

SS 9+11 – La Bréole – Selonnet is familiar from the two previous years, but now the configuration has been tweaked slightly, adding a new previously undriven section and reversing the final bit, removing two other bits – including a long straight with a chicane.

This stage has three distinctly different sections and they are all quite fast. Still, tricky places appear all over the stage.

The beginning of the stage is a typical bumpy and narrow mountain road. It’s pretty tricky and technical but still fast all the time.

At 9.7 km the stage comes to a triangular junction, using the left entry despite turning right. The next road is wider and quite fast with a Corsica-style flowing long bends. It hasn’t been used before.

An open hairpin leads again onto smaller roads. It’s technical at first but the last 4.4 km of the stage are very fast and flowing over crests. This video shows it well, although the driving direction is now opposed

SS 10 – Saint-Clément – Freissinières is run only once in the middle of Saturday. It was new for last year and remains now unchanged. The only addition is a chicane onto the hyper fast middle section where Ott Tänak crashed heavily last year.

This is mostly a fast stage with a few slow and technical places spread over the stage, whereas the middle part is the fastest section of the whole rally.

The stage starts on a narrow mountain road which is quite fast and flowing. The pace is broken by two very narrow village passings and a bridge between them. Then the road descends through hairpins and reaches a wider road.

This is the aforementioned high-speed section. Thierry Neuville’s average speed on this 5.7 km stretch was 142 km/h! This video shows how it looks like:

The stage turns onto a narrower road at 13.5 km, passes a village and goes to the mountains. This section is more technical with ascending hairpins, succeeded by a flatout passage. At the end there’s two more tight village passings and a junction over to a bridge.

Like always, Saturday ends with a long liaison to the overnight break at Monaco. As always, restarting for Sunday is not allowed and only the top 50 cars can contest the Sunday stages. This year, the lower-positioned drivers will get a notional time for the Sunday stages.

Sunday

The Sunday stages are again driven close to Monaco. A traditional leg near Col de Turini was planned, but a storm damaged the roads, forcing the organizers creating a new plan. The last time these stages featured on WRC level was 20 years ago, so they are all new for the current drivers.

SS 12+14 – Puget-Théniers – La Penne is the lowest elevated stage of the rally, ranging from 433 m to 877 m above sea level. The beginning has some hairpins, the rest of the stage seems straighter. 2002 was the last time the stage was used in the rally, including the first kilometres of the stage. Back then Roman Kresta had his infamous “hanging on the edge” crash on a hairpin left which features at 5.4 km into this year’s stage.

SS 13+15 – Briançonnet – Entrevaux operates as the power stage. Its final 9 km featured in the rally in 2001. The stage is mostly downhill. First it’s straighter, then has numerous hairpins at the end.

Road conditions and starting order

It’s good to remember that in Monte the weather conditions can define the stage more than the road itself. I have reviewed the stages as if they were run on dry tarmac. A change in conditions or an unsuitable tyre choice could always turn fast and flowing sections into tricky and slow. Sebastien Ogier is first on the road, but in Monte the running order doesn’t play a big role, at least not nearly as much as the tyre choice.

20.1. UPDATE: Added information about Roman Kresta crash on SS12/14

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